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Michigan State University

Theatre Research Guide: Finding Background Information: Reference Materials

This is a general guide to research in the scholarship of the History of Theatre. For a guide to Period Resources (for images and scholarship in material culture) please see: http://blog.lib.msu.edu/libdata_pos/page.phtml?page_id=1373 .

Finding Background Information: Reference Materials

Reference books (both in print and electronic versions) include dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, directories, manuals, handbooks, and much more. Reference books can help you to:

  • Explore a topic: find out what has been said about this subject, trends, issues, etc.
  • Identify unfamiliar terms or people in your reading
  • Find references to other books and articles on the subject
  • Find specific keywords to use in online searches


  • Oxford Reference Online

    Contains online versions of dictionaries and encyclopedias previously published in paper by Oxford University Press.

  • Oxford English Dictionary Online

    The Oxford English Dictionary is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past.

  • Reference Resources on British History

    See librarian Agnes Widder's guides to various periods of British history for specific reference resources.

  • Resources for American Studies

    Librarian Mike Unsworth's subject guide includes reference resources.

  • Gale Virtual Reference Library

    Includes the full-text book reference works on many topics, including history of sciences. Especially see AMERICAN DECADES series for in-depth coverage of American material culture. Also: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CLOTHING & FASHION. IMAGES can be copied.

  • Blackwell Reference Online

    Blackwell Reference Online contains online versions of authoritative reference publications in Philosophy, Religion, Literature, Cultural Studies, History, Business, Economics, Sociology, Psychology, and Linguistics.

  • Interdiscplinary Books in Reference:

    For quick look-ups, and overviews that contain citations for other resources. Use the Advanced keyword search in the catalog and limit location to Main Library Reference for more general overviews and encylcopedias about world cultures and epochs throughout history. Many resources for Theatre History are also in Fine Arts.
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